I write this post as spring break is winding to a close, with only slightly more than a month is left before the end of the semester. Time goes by as quickly as ever, and I wanted to recap a little what’s been going on in this whirlwind of a semester.
Last semester was interesting because of adjusting to college, being in the United States for the first time, getting to explore San Francisco and meeting a whole host of new friends. This semester has been just as interesting. It’s the first time that I’ve actually gotten to study politics in an academic setting (I love love love my Intro to Comparative Politics class and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a graduate student and a professor here on a research project.
But what was most exciting was this past week: my first sojourn outside the Bay Area to Los Angeles! I’ve heard and read a lot about the mystical land that is Southern California, and I especially enjoy listening to my Californian friends treat NorCal and SoCal as essentially different countries. Los Angeles was indeed an interesting place, and rather than boring everyone with a trip description, I want to make ten succinct observations:
- LA and Bangkok are actually quite similar in many ways, and beyond just the observation that both are known as the ‘City of Angels’. Both are massive and sprawling with no real city centre and terrible traffic.
- A common saying is that LA has no public transit. That’s not true. The Metro is rather extensive (certainly more extensive than BART, although of comparable quality), and the newly opened Expo line to Santa Monica was convenient. However, it’s amazing how little locals seem to know about the Metro (since everyone drives).
- Hollywood was cool, but they really did not try their best with Donald Trump’s hair (see my collage below).
- Griffith Observatory has a great view of LA, but the view also makes you realise how small the LA downtown actually seems to be.
- Walking from Santa Monica to the Venice boardwalk on the sand makes you feel like you’re hallucinating and distances are a social construct.
- At a Starbucks in Anaheim, a guy who saw my Berkeley t-shirt started talking to me about how he’s a senior at Stanford studying computer science and was planning a new tech start-up, which might be the most stereotypically Californian to have ever happened to me so far.
- Irvine is one of the nicest, wealthiest, cleanest cities I’ve ever seen, but I also learned about how they ship every homeless person they see out of the city, and I still don’t know what I feel about that. Talk about income inequality…
- The nice parts of LA are really nice (The Grove, Beverly Hills) and the sketchy parts can be pretty sketchy (downtown, where I stayed. I swear I saw a sweatshop).
- Little Tokyo, although little, is lovely.
- SoCal actually does feel like a different country from NorCal.
I also wanted to write this post after seeing that Berkeley released this year’s application results. I think that something college students quickly forget after settling down at university is how stressful senior year at high school can be, from applying to college to having to choose one to facing the uncertainty of life after high school. I wanted to just point out some things that I feel would be helpful for anyone thinking of coming to UC Berkeley to know. Some of this will sound repetitive from previous posts that I’ve written before, which you’ll notice if you’ve been following my blog for a while, but I wanted to condense it to something more easily readable.
So, some tips for new Bears…
1. Find a community.
UC Berkeley is a massive public university. I didn’t think that it would matter too much when I first got here, and coming from a really small international school in Bangkok, it took me a while to adjust. Lower division lectures can be huge (my Astronomy lecture last semester had 800 people!) I realised a while into last semester that I could go weeks without sitting down and properly talking to a single actual adult if I wanted to. Regardless of how large your high school is, you’ll see that Berkeley is a different scale altogether.
The sheer size of Berkeley has ramifications. The size and impersonality of the classes can make Berkeley an intimidating place. It’s easy for people to feel like they’re just a number, or to get lost in the crowd. Some find it more difficult to connect- how are you going to make friends if you get rejected from all the competitive clubs and can’t talk to anyone in a lecture hall, silent except for the droning voice of a professor? Many think that Berkeley’s size means a great opportunity to make a lot of friends, which is true, except some find it even more difficult to connect to others.
This makes it so important to find your own community. If UC Berkeley is a city, it’s necessary to carve out your own neighbourhood that you can call your home. I have no idea how this year would have turned out for me if I didn’t find my own group of supportive friends that I could always count upon. And there’s ways for you to make Berkeley feel smaller. Go to office hours (a heavily under-utilised resource) and talk to your favourite professors. Join clubs- and if you get rejected from the competitive ones, know that there’s no shame in finding a home in clubs that are less selective. Finding a sense of community is important, and when times get rough, it will keep you going.
2. You’ll have a love/hate relationship with Berkeley, and that’s okay.
Almost everyone I know have a love/hate relationship with Berkeley. You may not think so if all you look at are the UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens group on Facebook, because Cal students seem to excel most at self-deprecation and dark humour; all the memes radiate a sense of deep depression. And yes, there are certainly students here who are depressed, and some who love the campus so much they see no flaws. Most of us will fall somewhere in between.
It’s easy to feel a sense of pride once you get here, as you should. You’ll start getting indoctrinated by the propagandists in the Berkeley administration about how UC Berkeley is the number one public university in the world and how we want to beat our rivals Stanford (seriously though, they don’t care). You’ll enjoy walking around the beautiful campus and you’ll love how you could take all these amazing classes with some of the top minds in the world. You’ll appreciate living in the Bay Area, next to exciting cities like San Francisco and Oakland. But eventually, the pains of Berkeley will dawn on you. If you have to deal with the bureaucracy, that will suck. If you don’t, you’ll still have to deal with all the other ills that plague Berkeley: not being able to register for the classes you need, having to find an apartment in one of the world’s nastiest housing markets or walking around at night in a not totally safe environment.
In the end, a lot is about attitude. You’ll be happier if you focus on the things that make Berkeley great and less so if you spend more time thinking about how you hate the city. It sometimes help to remember that in the end, a lot is nitpicking; Berkeley is a pretty great place to be.
3. Ask for help if you need it, and be proactive.
Asking for help does not make you stupid. And you can ask anyone for help: professors, GSI, your friends, the Tang Center- anyone, really. Some of your professors or GSIs won’t be very helpful, but if you come across good ones, milk them for their wisdom. Your friends are an equally important resource; I’ve got so much help from my friends, I have no clue what I would do without them. If you find that you’re depressed, it is okay to go to the Tang center and ask for counselling. There’s a stigma against mental health, but don’t let that deter you from getting the help you need.
Being proactive is important. UC Berkeley might be rich in resources and opportunities, but they won’t come to you; you need to seek them out. Don’t spend all day sitting in your dorm room just studying (I made that mistake at the start of last semester). Now that you’re already here, you might as well take advantage of everything Berkeley has to offer.
Good luck, and Go Bears!